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Tangible Capital Equity (T.C.E.) has suddenly become one of those vogue things everyone wants to know more about. Pundits have begun asking, some proclaiming, about the notion of T.C.E. becoming the “new Tier 1 Capital” for investors. In a world where wiping out equity investors is rapidly becoming a “too bad for you buddy” event as the banking community strives to bankrupt common equity to protect pay off losses over in the neighboring fixed income casino, people are right to ask the question.

But what is the real T.C.E. condition of these banks. An equity investor sees their investment through the eyes of the Securities Act. They buy stock through a market regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). They analyze their investments looking at the whole entity which in the most complex institutions is only partially a regulated bank.

For those of you who don’t this, the regulated bank portion of your stock is overseen by an entirely different set of regulators operating under the authority of the Banking Act. The Securities Act and the Banking Act are immiscible. They do not interact. The identification numbers at the SEC and the FDIC are separate lists. There are 885 publicly traded banks and over 5,000 bank holding companies. So for over 80% of the banking industry, publicly traded stock price doesn’t figure anywhere in the analysis. And it’s the bank regulators who hold the power of U.S. law when it comes to capital adequacy. It’s their equations that govern what is enough, when prompt corrective action is required and when resolution is necessary. The computations are specific and they are not based on reading 10-K’s.

There are a number of T.C.E. figures floating around right now and we thought it would be a good idea to assess whether these are in fact helping public transparency or distorting it. The most common one we’ve found is the simplistic method. It’s,

T.C.E = (Common Equity less Intangible Assets) divided by (Total Assets less Intangible Assets)

These numbers are found in SEC 10K’s and are part of the standard 800 or so fundamental variables in all of the vended data feeds. It’s quick to calculate and it gives reasonable data for banks with business models that are primarily in the basic business of banking. It begins to distort as the bank participates in exposures to external risk sensitive activities such as trading and securities that are better tracked using Economic Capital (EC) analysis. And it can be as much as 200% to 400% off the mark for large complex multinational public companies with portfolios of operations that include significant portions of non-banking lines of business. For this last set of companies you really do have to separate them in to their bank and non-bank components and analyze the risk of each using differing techniques and then make the equity decision. Yes it’s more complex that quick glancing at the 10K and watching the price-volume but we’re in a brave new world and the winners are going to be the ones that figure out the new math.

Take poor Citigroup (NYSE:C). I saw an article with a table indicating Citi’s T.C.E. was down to 1.8%. We ran the simplified formula for Citi and came up with 1.78% for 3Q2008 pulling figures from the 10-Q's matching the number from the source quoted in the articles. The figure is alarming because the conventional rule about T.C.E. is that it should be 3% of higher to be “adequate” from a banking safety and soundness perspective. The outcome of the equation puts quite a bit of “market” pressure on Citi to say the least. Adding insult to injury, it also opens up an arbitrage gap. The question in the end of course, is it real?

At the moment we’re not so sure at IRA because certain cross checks don’t fit. The three official tests of Capital Adequacy(1) for the Citi’s banking operations all show that this portion of the business is capitally adequate. Citi does carry a high degree of stress in our Bank Stress Rating system but it’s not because of any regulatory capital adequacy issues. Their loss provisions are in line with the Maximum Probable Loss (MPL) stress factors in our system so it looks like their operations scenario planning is being done properly as far as capital reserve positioning is concerned. So we ran a version of a bank operations-only T.C.E. and came up with a figure of 5.53% for Citi at the end of 4Q2008. This last figure for the bank portion of Citi agrees better with the regulatory indicators from the three official Capital Adequacy tests. We remain a little wary because the oddball number out of the lot is the simple calc TCE.

If all the numbers are true one thing it might imply is that the interests of the banking regulators, counterparties, et al and the interests of equity shareholders are not aligned by a conflict ratio of 3-to-1. That gets kind of interesting when the two become one.

Bottom Line

I’m not saying that banks like Citi don’t have their share of challenges. They certainly do and yes they are scary daunting. But what I am saying is that they, the other banks, and this country’s economy do not need imaginary ones. In these times, we need to be sure the dots are connecting.

Note : The three official regulatory tests for bank capital adequacy are as follows,
a. Tier 1 Leverage Capital Ratio must be greater than 5%.
b. Tier 1 Risk Based Capital must be greater than 6% of Total Risk Weighted Assets.
c. Total Risk Based Capital must be greater than 10% of Total Risk Weighted Assets.

If you want to see IRA's Bank Stress Ratings reports you can buy them here.

Source: Tangible Capital Equity: Useful Tool or Wild Goose Chase?